Forget that mess of a Daisuke start last night. What I want to talk about is Kevin Millar.
Millar's a member of that 2003-2004 club that will probably always have a unique place in my heart. There have been few Sox I haven't loved in one way or another, and even fewer I haven't liked at all. But the lineup Millar rattled off last night on the pregame show, tossing off names like Billy Mueller, Trot Nixon, Mark Bellhorn -- even the names brought a smile to my face.
Apparently Millar's been getting mixed reviews after his first appearance as a NESN analyst. Me, I don't care what anyone else says, I want him and the Eck on heavy rotation -- preferably together -- forever more. I want Millar to be groomed as Rem-Dawg's heir starting now.
He's still a little green -- someone needs to talk to him about slowing down his twangy auctioneer's speech pattern, for example -- but his ebullience is contagious whether he's on a baseball field or in a broadcast booth. And he has a lexicon to rival Eckersley's ("circling the pillows" was my favorite expression of his last night) along with an audacious sense of humor to rival Pedroia (referring to Joe West as "Cowboy Joe", repeatedly addressing a taken-aback Jim Rice as "Jimmy").
Maybe it's just all the 2003-2004 montages talking. Clearly I have no direct experience in broadcasting. I may be the only one who feels this way. But that was the best pre and postgame show ever, and I still left last night's debacle of a game with a smile and a spring in my step, all because of Millar's irrepressible presence.
The fine line that separates Millar's boisterousness from an Eric Byrnes-style obnoxiousness is the depth that gives his light energy ballast. At heart, there is something dead serious about Kevin Millar, for all the ribbing he dishes out and takes in turn, for all the jokes and winks and "y'alls".
That something, skillfully encapsulated in the video from MLB Tonight that's been making the rounds, is that Kevin Millar loves the game of baseball as much as anyone who's ever donned a glove or held a bat in his hand.
Lots of players talk about loving the game, and who wouldn't love being famous, rich beyond their wildest imaginings, and playing a game for a living? But Millar's love is different -- nothing has come easy to him, and he's never known that star spotlight. He clawed his way up from the St. Paul Saints, and charmed and battled his way through more than a dozen Major League seasons, all while freely admitting to anyone who asked that he was a bad player. "I don't have any of the five tools," Millar says in that video. "But the one tool that I've always felt I had in my heart is that I loved it more than anybody."
Stories of overcoming adversity are, almost by definition, widespread in the Major Leagues. And each player handles it in a different way. Pedro Martinez's inborn rage propelled him past the seeming limitations of a slight frame to become a dominant power pitcher. Dustin Pedroia's fierce, unrelenting tenacity has similarly served him. With Millar, the strength has come from his devotion, his palpable awe whenever he steps out of the dugout, the grin that spreads across his face under his eyeblack and sunglasses.
One of my most vivid memories of Millar -- perhaps the most vivid, despite its relative insignificance -- is the shot of him in the dugout after the Sox dropped the ALDS in 2005. Millar was the last to leave the bench. Tears were standing in his eyes as he bit his lip. It wasn't the loss he was upset about -- it was the fact that he knew these would be his last moments in a Sox uniform at Fenway Park.
There has always been something extra, something rare, going on behind those twinkling eyes. Watching it bubble to the surface like that -- I'll never forget the power of that image in that moment, the way Millar's cheerful veneer pulled back and revealed a true, deep, pure passion that took my breath away.
How else do you explain his return to the St. Paul Saints after his release from the Chicago Cubs this year (incredibly, his first-ever release from an MLB team)? How many other big league players, especially those with decade-plus careers, would actually do this, just for the chance to keep strapping on the cleats every day, and to work with younger players?
"[Baseball] is all I've known," Millar says against a shot of darkened Minnesota streets in the video linked above. As far as I'm concerned, whether he's on the field, in the dugout as a coach or manager, or delighting us from the press box, it's all he ever needs to know. He may not be a Hall of Famer, but that kind of heart has its own special place in the game.